So-Called PBS "Production Company" Sues Blogger For $20 Million

Don’t blog about how a shady production company tried to rip you off for $25,000 or they’ll sue you for $20 million. Vision Media Television is one of several different alleged ripoff artists who frequently target non-profit and socially-aware groups, promising a big TV special aired on PBS and/or other major networks showcasing the group. The show is supposedly anchored by ex-20/20 anchor Hugh Downs and will reach millions upon millions of people. The catch? The organization has to pay for the production costs up-front, which run into the tens of thousands of dollars…and the show never goes on TV.

Complaints litter the internet about this company and its ilk. Some say that if you’re lucky, you end up with a stack of shoddily-made DVDs, a documentary that never airs at all, and none of the promised PR.

And after one blogger, Leslie Richards, a small eco-fashion business owner, wrote about an attempted shakedown by Vision Media Television, they sued her for $20 million, saying the blog post cost them $5 million in lost business and seeking $15 million in punitive damages.

The lawsuit is filed in the Southern District of Florida, a bit of a problem for her as she’s based in North Carolina and doesn’t have a car or much money. Leslie told the Mountain Xpress, “Who has $20 million? At $20 million, legal-aid organizations generally won’t help you. Since it’s filed in the Southern District of Florida, not a lot of lawyers here are licensed to practice there…I don’t have a car, I don’t have money, so we’re trying to get it transferred here so I can find someone to represent me pro bono.”

Any pro-bono lawyers out there who want to help Leslie out can contact her at info@theokobox.com.

Vision Media Television defends its actions, saying that it only distributes the programs to public television stations, which air them at their “discretion,” and blames its “customers” for confusing public television with PBS. Judging by the fact that PBS has an explicit disclaimer on its website denying any relationship between itself and Vision Media Television and other similar groups, this appears to be a confusion that Vision Media Television is not, shall we say, working very hard to erase.

Other production groups to watch out for: New Line Media TV, New Line Media, Platinum Television Group, PTG Studios, Paradigm Media Group, PMG, PMGTV, Infinity Media Group, Roadshow Productions, Family Television Studios, United Media Communications Group, American Review TV, Business Break TV, Event Media TV, and Global Television Studios.

I wonder if Vision Media Television, based in Boca Raton, Florida, a known haven for spammers, scammers, telemarketers,identity thieves, and other various ne’re-do-wellers, will also be suing the New York Times, which just ran an article exposing the company and its brethren.

Scam Taking Advantage of Green Businesses [The Öko Box]
Company Pitches a Television Production, and Nonprofit Groups Are Wary [NYT]
Local Business Owner Sued For 20 Million Over Blog Post [Mountainx]
Blogger Sued 20 Million [Blogher]
Eco Clothing Store Owner Sued For 20m After Exposing Scam [Earthfirst]
Platinum Television Group Complaints [Ripoff Report]
New Line Media Complaints [Ripoff Report]

Comments

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  1. azntg says:

    Now that’s got to be a fight to behold. A mega lawsuit between Gawker vs. the bad guys and New York Times vs. the bad guys!

  2. Reeve says:

    Why are they suing her in Florida? Is the production company based in Florida?

  3. Ben Popken says:

    @Reeve: Yes.

  4. logicalnoise says:

    @Reeve: Same reason Scientology likes to sue people from london, they have offices there and london judegs give teh scientology POV more respect than american judges.

  5. timmus says:

    Vision Media can’t just sue someone in their home state if the defendant doesn’t live in their state, has never been in their state, and doesn’t do business in their state. WTF?

  6. tedyc03 says:

    @logicalnoise: I’d like to see a British judge hold me in contempt and then enforce it.

    Moving on…

    This lawsuit won’t go anywhere. I really hope that the EFF picks it up or something.

  7. RRich says:

    Boca Raton, Florida, a known haven for spammers, scammers, telemarketers,identity thieves, and other various ne’re-do-wellers,

    Er, quite a few legit businesses too…

  8. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Does Florida have an anti-SLAPP suit law?

  9. Reeve says:

    @Ben Popken:
    It does not look like she did any business in Fl. Not being from Fl I do not know what is required for Personal Jurisdiction but it is possible that they can not sue her in Fl due to lack of Personal Jurisdiction.

    @logicalnoise:
    I was asking because I was trying to piece together what the production company’s claim for personal jurisdiction is. They are probably trying to use some sort of claim that there was a tort committed in the state. That long arm jurisdiction does not work though in many states for libel.

  10. snowburnt says:

    @timmus: If you were suing someone, wrongfully or not, would you try to do anything to help that person out, apart from what is legally required of you?

  11. Reeve says:

    @timmus:
    It is not clear from the facts but there may be a basis for long arm jurisdiction such as a tort in the state.

  12. y2julio says:

    I thought when being sued, it has to be where you live? other wise it be easy to win cases. otherwise, whats stopping someone from Suing some one from Alaska in NY, have them never show up due to hardship and win.

  13. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    I might just sue you for poor grammar and spelling.@y2julio:

  14. Chairman-Meow says:

    Why do I think that Vision Media Television is really two guys and a phonebook ?

  15. @timmus, @y2julio: Vision media can SUE them wherever they want. I sincerely doubt they’ll be able to keep their ridiculous venue, however. Long story short, as long as there’s some relation of the case to the venue (either party based there, etc.), you can at least bring the case in that venue.

    However, in corporation-vs.-person, the court will almost always send the case to where the PERSON is, and make the corporation pick up travel costs.

    A lot of small-town lawyers do a real good business in helping big-city firms and corporations file inconvenient-venue lawsuits. I worked on a case where a big nasty corp tried to get the lawsuit sent somewhere ridiculous. We would have been willing to compromise on Chicago, but after they were such butts about it, we got venue put in the rural ass end of Illinois so THEY had to pay travel costs and WE just had a short drive.

    It was like they hired the movie version of asshole big-city lawyers. It doesn’t amuse the judge when you keep implying he’s a hick! (Unfortunately, co-counsel took the case to conclusion, I was only involved in part of it, so I didn’t get to see the whole circus.)

    I know another lawyer will come along with the fancy official version of venue choosing, but that’s the Q&D.

  16. Reeve says:

    @y2julio:
    If you live (or your corporation is based) in a State it is very easy to get jurisdiction. There are other ways to get personal jurisdiction in a state (each state has different rules on this). One common way to get personal jurisdiction over an individual is if they commit a tort in the state one usually may sue the tortfeasor where the tort occurred, once again depending on that states long arm statute. Another common way to gain personal jurisdiction over someone is if the dispute arises from a contact in the state. So, for example, if you negotiate a contract in state X if a dispute arises in state X the lawsuit can be brought in state X.

    The safeguard is there needs to be some minimum contacts (ie the state cannot say “anyone can be sued here regardless”). Therefore, if you have never had contact with a state it is unlikely the state will have personal jurisdiction over you.

  17. Reeve says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:
    I agree with you in general. The only issue here is a venue change from one state to another rather than within in a jurisdiction.

  18. bongoherbert says:

    From her blog posting -

    “My lawyers are not only real, but they run the city of New Orleans (my hometown)… think Tony Soprano in the deep south… you picked the wrong eco chick to fuck with on this one.”

    So, she’s got that going for her.

  19. y2julio says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: I was tired when I posted my comment, so bite me.

  20. RRich says:

    @bongoherbert: They run the city of New Orleans?

    Has anyone told Ray Nagin… or Arlo Guthrie?

  21. picardia says:

    @RRich: I can believe there are people who run New Orleans who are not the mayor. Definitely.

  22. QuantumRiff says:

    My company did one of these, with Pat Sommeral, the football announcer. We won an “Award of Excellence” and we had to pay the production costs to do the video. (a crapload of money, btw). The show was on the air, in our local market, at 4am on a Wednesday.

  23. AI says:

    But now that Consumerist has posted this story, isn’t Vision Media Television going to sue the Consumerist for 20mill too? Roz and the rest may need to lawyer up :)

  24. MrDo says:

    the suit won’t go anywhere, regardless of venue. they would have to actually prove damages, and honestly, how are they going to do that? they would have to have a supposed client testify on their behalf that they did not use their services because of the blog post. highly unlikely.

    she will prevail, but honestly she comes off as kind of a prick herself, perhaps she should have done a little due diligence on her behalf before spouting off at the mouth on her site, then you would not see the secondary clarifications regarding her intent and the pseudo legalese she tried to impart.

  25. johnj21 says:

    …$5million in lost business?! It’s not illegal for someone to cause a company to lose business (provided there is no other underlying illegal activity like libel or fraud). That’s like Chevy suing Ford for selling cars

  26. Quilt says:

    So hold on, this company figures they lost $5 million in revenue because of her blog post, but they needed her $25,000 in order to make the show? If they’re legit and pulling in that kind of coin, they would never need a $25,000 pittance.

    Good on her for fighting the power. I hope this turns all right for her.

  27. EyeHeartPie says:

    @Quilt:
    $5mil in lost revenue comes out to 200 shows at $25k each. I guess they’re assuming they lost 200 customers because of her.

  28. Reeve says:

    @MrDo:
    I agree that the suit is unlikely to succeed – if you can get it dismissed on jurisdictional grounds though it may save on legal expenses. The company can of course then file suit in a proper jurisdiction but they may not want to do that since they would then need to travel for a lot of the pretrial and trial work.

  29. EyeHeartPie says:

    @EyeHeartPie: Does anyone know how many customers they have actually had in the past? If it’s something like 100 in the past 5 years, there is no way a judge would award them $5mil for lost revenue. However, if they have a 300-500 a year, then I could see how a well-publicized blog post could cost them 200 customers.

  30. Reeve says:

    @EyeHeartPie:
    The company is probably going to lose more business due to the self inflicted damage of filing this ridiculous lawsuit than the blog post ever caused.

  31. charodon says:

    I wish I was in SD Fla., I’d take this case in a second.

  32. EyeHeartPie says:

    @Reeve: I wonder if they’re gonna sue themselves for lost revenue, then ask the state to pay since they can’t make themselves pay up…

    I seem to recall some criminal did something similar, in which he sued himself for millions for allowing himself to drink and then commit a crime while intoxicated. He said that since he was in jail and now allowed to earn money, the state should pay his lawsuit against himself.

  33. dougkern says:

    While these scammers should get what could be coming to them, reading this comment by the blog’s author really rubbed me the wrong way:

    “After posting this story for the Green Business Network – i have already found out they are targeting other small green businesses ! Such scum bags – trying to take money from people who make the earth a healthier place by running ethical stores – how freaken low can you get !!!”

    Give me a break. You aren’t a saint for running an “eco friendly” business, you’ve jumped on a trend and that is all.

  34. econobiker says:

    Are these the same guys who sell jacked-up-price copier toner and light bulbs to businesses as a sideline?

  35. nogas2speed says:

    To dougkern’s point…Everytime I see something that says “Eco-Friendly” it translates to “over-priced.” When that translation no longer stands, I will gladly jump on the Eco-Friendly bandwagon.

  36. dougkern says:

    you messed with the wrong eco chick, man.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    , @dougkern, @nogas2speed: Ahh. Blaming the victim. Charming.

    Don’t mess with eco-chicks: they hike, they may not (or could – just to keep you off-balance) shave and they’re not larded down with Big Macs and corn syrup. They’ll eat you alive. Well, they would, except your carcass would be larded down with too many transfats.

  38. katiat325 says:

    She can definately get the case removed to federal level if she needs to: all thanks to the diversity jurisdiction. [en.wikipedia.org] Plaintiff and def are in different states, and this case is over $75k, so she has every right to have the civil case heard by a federal court. She should not be intimidated!

    • Reeve says:

      @katiat325: I agree that it may be able to be removed to Fed Court but how does that help? Further, wouldn’t it be better to first try to have the case dismissed on personal jurisdiction grounds?

  39. stevejust says:

    Don’t any of the people trying to sort out the jurisdiction question on this message board actually practice law?

    She MOST LIKELY signed a contract in the negotiations with Video Media Television. Said contract MOST LIKELY contained “choice of law” and “choice of venue” clauses in it. And that’s MOST LIKELY the basis for them filing it in their home state.

    And if you’re really sophisticated, you might say that this dispute couldn’t possibly have been contemplated as arising from that contractual relationship, but I’m not so sure. Contracts written by shady companies are always broad and over-reaching.

    What she needs to do is find someone willing to turn around and counter-claim against them, sue them for fraud, malicious prosecution, libel, and yes, Florida does have a SLAPP-suit provision.

    If I were licensed to practice in Florida, I might do this myself, since I would even style the counter-claim as a class-action against this company for being the fradulent A-holes they are on behalf of everyone who’s been defrauded by them. That would be terribly messy as a class-action, but it appears like they deserve it.

    P.S. : If Video Media Television would like to sue me for this comment, please e-mail me at ahimsanathotmail.com and I will gladly give you my address for service of process.

  40. B says:

    @stevejust: Contract? She signed no contract. VMT gave her a sales pitch that she correctly identified as a scam, and she blogged about it.

  41. mandymoon says:

    The same types that convince young starlets to spend thousands on “demo reels” have now found another more lucrative and nearly as desperate a target–non-profits. 501C3 Organizations have seen revenues plummet over the last three years. Now they are looking for a slick new way to market themselves and increase donations. One guy comes in with a dog and pony show to make a presentation and then they are ready to give away what they do have to find more money. How do I know? I work with non-profits all of the time and I see them come in about every other month.

    Good for her that she blogged about it. She’ll be fine.

  42. Canino says:

    Some of her friends modeling her clothes on her website are pretty cute. I’d change venue…I mean I’d get jurisdiction…. dang. No way to get a good line out of that.

  43. alejo699 says:

    Wait — a mostly bogus production company that calls legal attention to itself by foisting a lawsuit they’re likely to lose? Isn’t that sort of like calling the cops because someone stole your weed?

  44. MrEvil says:

    The OP can just let the company sue them in FL and get a default judgement. However, in order to make that judgement enforcable in NY the company will have to file a new court case in NY court to make the judgement enforcable there (though the cards can be stacked against you in these cases). So therefore the company is making a threat they’re never going to follow through on or just pissing in the wind. I’d guess its the former as opposed to the latter.

    Now if you have the money for a lawyer, or one of your pro-bono lawyers is willing to do it, you CAN sue for declatory judgement in your home state. This forces them to come to you. This is provided these dirtbags are actually going to follow through on their threat.

    Infinium labs pulled this same BS on HardOCP.com a couple years ago for a rather scathing article. Coincidentally Infinium Labs was based in FL. The owners of HardOCP fearing a pending lawsuit in FL and thus sued for declatory judgement in their home state of Texas. This helped them avoid the travel and legal fees associated with defending a lawsuit in another state.

    Think of declatory judgement as a kind of pre-emptive strike against someone that is threatening to sue you.

    Mind you though, I am not a lawyer, and this is just my rudimentary understanding of declatory judgement. However, my own attorney has told me how relatively unenforceable default judgements are without filing in the state of the person you sued.

  45. TheTick says:

    Funny, I JUST saw an ad with Hugh Downs, may have been for these guys. Have to find it again.

  46. neko613 says:

    EcoChick comments aside, I think this is pretty amuzing. This shady bussiness has drawn so much negative PR it isn’t even funny. Might as well sue themselves for filing such a ridiculous lawsuit.

  47. kickarse says:

    I really want them to see this blog post. I’d like to see them pull this BS Consumerist(a.k.a big dog Yahoo).

  48. stevejust says:

    @B: Oh !@#$!@% I didn’t read the original post very closely. I thought she actually had them produce something for her and was unhappy about it and then blogged about it. I didn’t realize they were suing her for blogging about an unwelcomed sales pitch.

    -1 for me.

  49. AgentTuttle says:

    Well, it’s not slander if it’s true, and if it is true, then they wouldn’t want that to be revealed in court. It’s a bluff to scare you.

  50. mythago says:

    @MrEvil: if you’re not a lawyer or legal professional, DON’T SAY WHAT YOU THINK THE LAW PROBABLY IS BECAUSE YOU HEARD IT SOMEWHERE. Law is complicated. That’s why lawyers cost more to hire than Comcast techs.

    AgentTuttle is correct – they’re not actually expecting to get $20 million. They’re hoping the threat of a big-money lawsuit will intimidate the blogger.

    Does anyone have a link to the original complaint filed by the scammers?

  51. bwcbwc says:

    @Reeve: Question: If her blog is readable by residents of Florida, does that constitute “Doing business in Florida”? The internet is a place of many opportunities…and perils.

  52. BillsBurg says:

    @QuantumRiff: So that’s the voice over they spliced into Sunday night football!!!

  53. GamblesAC2 says:

    Is it just me or are thees fake studios looking to get sued for copyright and trademark infringement: New Line Media TV/ New Line Media ( sounds like New Line Cinema)

    Roadshow Productions (sounds like the b movie devision of Village Roadshow pictures)

    Infinity Media Group (Sounds like Infinty broadcasting )

    Global Television Studios (Sounds like the new Media production arm of the canadain television network Global)

    imagine the finacial havoc that theese scam artists would be in if any one of theese bigtime media companies found outlet aloone all of em’….oouch!

  54. matukonyc says:

    This scam is not limited to non-profits and P.B.S. I worked for a boiler room in Amytiville Long Island that contacted small businesses with promises to to profile them on a local business program. The catch was that it would be at the business owners expense and the low-rent dvd’s were a marketing bonus. The show aired occasionally at odd hours when enough businesses signed on.

  55. like_deux says:

    Not every business that offers a service for a fee is a scam and certainly not every business in Boca Raton. Just because there is money involved doesn’t make it a scam. AT&T calls my house every day selling me something. Sure it sounds good and yes there’s money involved but is that a scam? There are several legitimate and honest television production companies who actually deliver everything they say they will deliver. In fact, independent TV Production companies have quite the offer: They air on several national networks, at peak and prime time, some take the third-party educational approach which gives the participating company credibility… all for less than 25k on average. If anyone wanted to buy that much time on all of those networks, they wouldnt be able to do it for less than 100k. Think of a train that is already set on the tracks, ready to go, and all they have to do is load up the passengers; in this case, that would be the guests they invite onto their show.

    This woman is just pissed that she didn’t have the money to participate. So she reacted emotionally, ruined the name of Vision Media and tarnished other legitimate TV production companies in the process. Saying that ALL TV production companies are the same is undeniably slanderous and obviously false. She did damage not only to Vision Media, but other companies in the industry, far surpassing 20 million dollars.

  56. Nick_Bentley says:

    They KNOW they won’t get 20mil from her, if anyone sues for that amount they did an asset search and knows she isn’t worth near that much. What they are doing is trying to get her to settle and sign a gag order so she will take it down and pay them some money to cover their legal fees to file. It’s a number to scare the crap out of her and I’m sure they know that they can’t prove damages if they are charging $20k on average for a production. Proving damages is very hard to do. The page she wrote it has a Google Pagerank of zero! Who the heck even saw it?

  57. Oh, Boca Raton is FILLED to the brim with companies like this. It’s despicable.

  58. agatha says:

    All of these Vision Media Television people used to work for Paradigm Media Group. Paradigm was sued by actor Michael Douglas back in 2006. According to the BBC, Douglas “agreed to host the Learning About series on the basis that it was educational and non-commercial. But he says the segments he recorded were used to drum up sponsorship for episodes which were never broadcast.”
    Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, John Mimnaugh and Linda L. Galligan(aka Linda “Shields”) all worked for Paradigm Media Group. A name change was undoubtedly necessary after all that negative publicity. Enter, Vision Media Television. These people are the scum of the earth. They deliberately mislead small business owners and non-profits…those least likely to have the money for legal recourse. If there is a hell, they will surely rot there. We can only hope that they’ve not reproduced.

  59. CoreyStolo says:

    Wow. Glad to find this site. My wife got a call from these people wanting to showcase her burgeoning jewelry business on “a PBS special hosted by Hugh Downs.”

    Guess we’ll give that one a pass!

  60. savdavid says:

    Boca Raton is a scam itself. Nothing but concrete and gated communities. Want to swim or just walk on the beach? Be ready to pay a hefty fee to park your car in the few small parking lots for the public. Boca is a hot, humid bore. No wonder Vision Media, I mean Great American Whatever is based there. As far as the lawsuit, it will never go anywhere as it is only a tactic to scare people from exposing these thieves.